Mumbai: Last year, Jorge Costa came to the Indian Super League (ISL) with a pre-conceived notion. He agrees now that it was a naive mistake and it taught him a lesson. As soon as Costa took over Mumbai City FC, the team travelled to Thailand for the pre-season where he was impressed with their performances. He thought he has a good enough team that can go the distance, underestimating other clubs and overestimating his players. Within the first few matches, reality hit Costa hard and he was already under pressure due to team's underwhelming start.
"I was speaking to Mumbai City FC for a long time, but I signed quite late last season. I don't know but maybe I was the last coach to sign last season. I saw a few matches before coming here and tried to understand the mentality of the players. After I came here, we went straight to Thailand for the pre-season. The pre-season was very good, we won all the games. And I was like, 'Wow! I have a very good team'. And then when the league started, I realised we had a lot of work to do.
"My team was not so good. The level (in ISL) was much better than what I thought. This was my mistake. I was wrong. This year, I won't repeat the mistakes," Costa said on Friday.
Costa might be new to the ISL, but he's not entirely new to management. He has had assignments in Portugal, Romania, Cyprus, and Africa. And he knows a thing or two about adapting to reality. With Mumbai last season, he thought he can play it from the back, going for the attractive possession-based football. But when things did not go as per the initial plan, Costa changed his style and made his team play the counter-attacking game. As a result, the team overcame the difficult start and finished third on the league table.
"Adapting!" That's what Costa said when asked about the most challenging thing for him in football and he's kind of glad he could do it in the first season with Mumbai. Costa understood the duality of his job — the fact that he is at the club to do things differently and produce the results but there's the aspect of adaptability.
"I worked in different countries and all were unique experiences. Last year was my experience in Asia. And I know I'm here to change things. This is what the club expects. But the main thing is I have to understand what I must change. And I have to adapt to the club and not the opposite. I cannot tell others just to follow my ways," Costa said.
Despite last season's good run where the team made it to playoffs, ultimately losing against FC Goa, Costa was cautious while answering about his team's prospects in the upcoming season. Mumbai lost some of their key players who played a vital role in their campaign, such as Arnold Issoko, Rafael Bastos and Lucian Goian. By retaining Costa's services, the club have reposed their trust in his methods and have also made their preference clear for continuity. Yes, there are exciting additions in the form of Indian international Rowllin Borges and Tunisian striker Amine Chermiti, but the task becomes tougher with a new set of players.
"I don't know if we can win the title. At this moment, I don't know exactly the reality of other clubs. There's Bengaluru, Goa, ATK, and Kerala. We have these four teams who I know will be very strong this year. I'm not speaking about Mumbai but these four teams will fight hard for the top four. Last year, I didn't see a huge difference between all the ten teams. All the teams had the quality to fight for the top four spots.
"Again, like last season, our budget this time is maybe the second or third worst. But I will not hide behind the budget. This is my team and all the 25 players in the squad are chosen by me. This year, the responsibility of the team is all mine so we have to do our best. And our best is trying to do better than last season," Costa said.
Apart from losing players, another problem that also affects the team is the long gap between the conclusion of a season to the start of a new one. Last season ended in March and the upcoming season is starting on 20 October. Players who are with the national teams at least get to be part of the camps and play international matches. Others have to follow a strict plan given by their respective clubs to keep themselves fit for the new season.
"We gave all the players a special programme at the end of last season. And I'm sure almost everybody did it because when compared to last season, players arrived this time in a better shape. But it's not good for us. It is not good for the league. It's a big break and the league must find a way to change this. This is not good for the national team as well.
"It's also strange because we start pre-season without international players. Then we have them for 15 days and we lose them again," Costa commented on select Indian players who also play for the national team.
Mumbai City FC start their season with two away matches against Kerala Blasters and Chennaiyin FC before they come to Mumbai for their first home game against Odisha FC on 27 October.
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Updated Date: Oct 12, 2019 11:23:58 IST